The Titanic, the worst peacetime maritime disaster in world history, and only topped by the Wilhelm Gustloff in casualty count after her torpedoing by a Soviet submarine in 1945. Her story has become a famous story that is still retold today, and continues to be a popular focus of movies, books and conspiracy theorists. These conspiracists have crafted numerous theories on the sinking of the Titanic, and some with more merit than others, but one conspiracy theory that has begun to gain steam over the past few years is the switch theory.
So what is the switch theory? In its most basic form, the theory says that the Titanic was swapped with her sister ship Olympic after launch and purposely sunk by the White Star Line so they could make back the money lost after the Olympic collided with the pre-dreadnought HMS Hawke, suffering somewhat significant damage. The theory begins when the Royal Navy files a lawsuit that the courts uphold saying that the White Star Line would have to pay the price for repairs out of pocket, as Olympic found to be at fault.
According to this theory, the White Star Line then switched the Titanic with the Olympic upon her launch in 1911, giving Olympic only some repairs with the plan being to sink Olympic under the guise of being Titanic to collect the entirety of Titanic’s insurance. Were this theory to be true, this would be the largest, and likely deadliest insurance scam in history involving massive moving parts including inter-company cooperation.
First to address the base of the claim that the White Star Line was going bankrupt and could not afford the repairs to Olympic. This is simply false. The White Star Line was one of the two major companies running ships on the Europe-New York shipping lanes. The other line was the Cunard Line. These two companies had spent the majority of the century playing a game of one upping, attempting to get the upper hand on the other. The White Star Line was aided financially after she was purchased by the International Mercantile Marine in 1902 giving them the economic upper hand on the Cunard Line who resisted purchase. On top of that, the White Star Line had plans to build three Olympic class liners, which were the most expensive passenger liners in the world. They simply were not in the hole.
This leads up to the collision between Olympic and Hawke. The cost of repairing the Olympic was less than $125,000. This was small potatoes to these large companies, which could be made back rather easily, and certainly would not have been enough of a loss to get the White Star Line to feel it necessary to scam for insurance rather than simply repair the Olympic and puter her back in the shipping lanes.
Addressing another claim of the theory, which is that this would have been a fairly easy venture, but this is far from the truth. First, it would have cost far more than the cost of repairing Olympic to make Olympic appear like Titanic. Despite being sister ships, they had many key differences, and certainly far more than the theorists would like to think. The most notable one was that Titanic had enclosed the b-deck promenade and added more cabins in its place. These enclosed cabins can be seen on the wreck site. The enclosing of the promenade deck is important because it would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to enclose it, including the electricians having to wire the rooms, the actual building of the walls, the piping for water and the ornate woodwork, artwork and carpetwork that was the staple of the first and second class cabins on the Titanic. A list compiled by titanicswitch.com listed 30 differences between Titanic and Olympic. The items on the list would have cost far more than the $125,000 it costed to repair Olympic.
“1. Forward half of the 1st class A-deck promenade on Titanic was enclosed with retractable glass screens; the Olympic’s promenade was open all the way along. 2. The front of the wheelhouse in Olympic’s bridge was curved, but on Titanic its flat. 3. The bridge wings (forward) and the aft docking bridge (stern) on Titanic extended over the ship’s side by a couple of feet. On the Olympic, they were flush with the ship’s side (prior to 1912/13 refit). 4. The 2nd class promenade area on the Olympic ran for the last quarter of ‘B deck’, but on the Titanic it was truncated to extend the 1st class restaurant out to the port side, and on the starboard side, the cafe parisien was included. 5. B deck was also drastically different on both ships – Olympic had a first class promenade whereas Titanic had two private verandahs and suites that were plush with the sides of the superstructure. 6. The reworked accommodations on B and C Decks, dramatically altered the number and arrangement of the windows and portholes on both decks. 7. Titanic had an extended enclosure aft on C Deck. 8. Titanic had a different arrangement of ventilators, fans, piping and machinery on the Boat Deck. 9. Titanic had carpeting and floor tiles that were different in colour. 10. Titanic had Turkish Bath area on the starboard side of F deck that was different in layout. 11. Titanic’s officers quarters were different, with the officers Deck House pushed out more on Titanic than Olympic. 12. On Olympic, the wireless cabin had an outside window, but this was changed on Titanic to allow more seaward facing cabins to be included. 13. On Olympic,the wireless room was on the port side of the officer’s deck house, while on Titanic it was situated amidships. 14. The porthole on the D deck gangway doors was round on the Olympic; on the Titanic it consisted of two vertical rectangular windows. 15. The propellers on the two ships had different pitches and were therefore not interchangeable. 16. The reception room on Saloon Deck ‘D’ was larger on Titanic than Olympic; Titanic had more columns than Olympic. 17. Titanic was 4 inches longer than Olympic. 18. Olympic’s bridge roof was painted white while Titanic’s was bare planking (or possibly painted grey). 19. The top of Olympic’s breakwater was painted brown while Titanic’s was white. 20. Olympic’s outdoor forward stairs had covers while Titanic’s did not 21. The porthole arrangements on Shelter Deck ‘C’ between the two ships were different. 22. The lounge furniture on both ships had their ships own names on them. 23. Modifications would result in Titanic having 1,004 gross tons(or 100,400 cubic feet) more enclosed space than the Olympic. 24. The paintings in Titanic’s smoke room was ‘Approach to Plymouth Harbour’ while on Olympic Was ‘Approach to the New World.’ 25. Titanic had additional cabins on the Promenade Deck “A” around the aft staircase. 26. Olympic had open third class berths, Titanic did not 27. Another reception room was added to Titanic’s Bridge Deck “B” next to the A la Carte restaurant. 28. Different air vent arrangement around the funnels 29. The steel plating arrangement on the two ships was noticeably different, especially around the bow plating around the anchor; two plate-edges were welded together on Titanic, but left unwelded on the Olympic. 30. The iron gates of the three elevators were different on Titanic wreck than photos which show them on Olympic,)” the list reads.
Next, and quite possibly most significant piece of evidence refuting this claim is that Titanic was not fully insured. The cost to build Titanic was $7,500,000, but her insurer valued her at $5,000,000 according to the original insurance papers form Willis Faber & Co. These numbers are further backed up by the US Senate Inquiry into the sinking, which read “the vessel, fully equipped, cost £1,500,000 sterling, or about $7,500,000. At the time of the accident the vessel carried insurance of £1,000,000 sterling or about $5,000,000, the remaining risk being carried by the company’s insurance fund.” This was normal practice back then, a statement which is backed up by the regulations of the White Star Line which reminded captains that their ships are largely uninsured. These number are further backed up by a piece in the New York Times published April 28, 1912 which read “aggregate property loss is placed by The Spectator at $9,420,000, and that insurance authority divides this total into $8,000,000 for the vessel, $420,00 for the cargo and $1,000,000 for personal effects. Marine insurance totaling $6,000,000 on the property is divided into $5,000,000 on the vessel, $400,000 on the cargo, and $600,000 on personal effects.”
Another wild part of the conspiracy is that Titanic’s owner did not travel on the voyage, instead claiming to be sick though later being photographed in Paris with a mistress. This is simply nonfactual. The owner of the White Star Line, chairman J. Bruce Ismay, was on the Titanic and aided passengers during the boarding of the lifeboats before being ordered aboard one of the last boats to leave Titanic by second officer William Murdoch to help roe the boat as too few crewmen were forward to man the boat in his stead. What is true is that the owner of the International Mercantile Marine, the company that bought the White Star Line, J.P. Morgan was not aboard and did have the aforementioned scandal. If this is who the theorists are referring to, he did not evade boarding Titanic due to the non factual switch theory but, as is normally stated, did not board Titanic because he was in Paris with a mistress. Furthermore, he had made no commitment to sail on all White Star Line maiden voyages, unlike Ismay which could be due to him owning numerous shipping companies. So this raises the question which is why would J. Bruce Ismay have been aboard if he knew the ship would sink, as he would have had to be in on the scandal, and been one of the principle conspirators. He surely would have known that being on board and surviving would have condemned him in the eyes of the public as a coward like we see in real life, so it makes no sense why he should board in the first place if he knows Titanic will sink.
One final piece of evidence that can refute the theory, though by far not the only other piece of evidence refuting it, is that Titanic did not have the lifeboat capacity to save all passengers aboard. Titanic had over 2,200 souls on board, with capacity for a little over 1,000. When Captain Smith received warnings of ice, he sent Titanic out of the usually traveled shipping lanes going farther south to evade the ice. This takes away almost all chance that Titanic would have ships come to her assistance before it’s too late to safely evacuate all passengers, and would have condemned at least 1,200 souls, costing the White Star Line the extremely good reputation she had built since its founding in the mid 1800’s, just as is seen in the real timeline, and would ultimately lead to its bankrupting by the 1930’s. Had it been the goal to sink the Olympic in the mask of being Titanic, Smith would not have evaded the usual shipping lanes and ice reports instead plowing straight into one in the more traveled lanes to ensure that the passengers and most crew could be evacuated.
This evidence refutes the theory of the switching of Titanic with her sister ship Olympic so as to purposefully sink it to collect on the insurance. Though this is not by any means all the evidence condemning this theory, it is some of the most significant.
This article was written in response to Titanic Conspiracy Theory: The Titanic Didn’t Sink, published March 18, by Audrey Whalen.
To get more information on this theory, and the evidence refuting the claim, click here.